Wilton tax case to be heard in state Supreme Court

WILTON — A taxation appeal on commercial property in Wilton Center is scheduled to be heard before the state Supreme Court in Hartford on Monday, Oct. 19.

The case stems from 2015 and asks whether the Wilton assessor at that time improperly imposed late filing penalties against the owner of the property after the assessor signed off on the town’s 2014 grand list.

The town of Wilton filed the appeal with the Supreme Court after a decision by the Superior Court in the town’s favor was later overturned by the state Appellate Court in 2019.

The case involves six taxation lawsuits against the town of Wilton, which were consolidated into one joint case and appeal.

The plaintiff in the case is Wilton Campus 1691, LLC, et al., with Paul Dooley, principal, and involves the taxation of properties at 5 River Road, 15 River Road, 21 River Road, and 7 Godfrey Place, where the Wilton Shopping Center and other commercial properties are located.

The agreed facts of the case are that on or before April 15, 2014, the tax assessor requested from the plaintiff annual income and expense reports for the year 2013 for the subject properties.

By state statute, the plaintiff was required to submit the reports to the assessor on or before June 1, 2014. However, the reports were not sent to the assessor until a day later, on June 2, and were received by the assessor on June 3.

The assessor signed off on the 2014 grand list on or before Jan. 31, 2015, without adding any late filing penalties to the subject properties. Instead, the assessor later assessed the penalties, even though the grand list had already been signed, a practice the assessor had done before.

The assessor sent notifications to the plaintiff on April 29, 2015, adjusting the original assessment and adding late filing penalties (approximately 10 percent of the original assessment), under the conditions of state statute §12-63c (d) which provides for penalties on property owners who fail to submit timely income and expense reports.

In their defense, the plaintiff claimed the assessor imposed the penalties too late, not allowing enough time to appeal them.

They referred to §12-55(b) which says, “Prior to taking and subscribing to the oath upon the grand list, the assessor or board of assessors shall equalize the assessments of property in town, if necessary, and make any assessment omitted by mistake or required by law...”

The lower court issued judgment in favor of the town, which the plaintiff then appealed to the Appellate court.

In its argument to the Appellate Court, the town presented three alternative grounds of defense: The assessor made no mistake in assessing the late filing penalties; if the assessor made a mistake, then it was a clerical mistake that was corrected pursuant to §12-60; and the plaintiff was not harmed by the assessor’s action.

Section §12-60 states that “any clerical omission or mistake in the assessment of taxes may be corrected according to the fact by the assessors or board of assessment appeals, not later than three years following the tax due date relative to which such omission or mistake occurred…”

Based on the stipulation that the assessor’s practice had been to assess late filing penalties retroactively after signing the grand list, the Appellate court concluded the assessor’s action was deliberate and a matter of substance, and not a clerical mistake. It overturned the lower court’s decision and sided in favor of Wilton Campus 1691, LLC, et al.

The Supreme Court appeal being heard next Monday is limited to just one issue:

“Did the Appellate Court incorrectly conclude that General Statutes §12-55(b) precluded the tax assessor of the Town of Wilton from imposing late filing penalties pursuant to General Statutes §12-63c (d) after taking and subscribing to the oath on the town's 2014 grand list?”